SOUDAN- Get your pots ready. The 100th annual Old Settlers Reunion and Picnic will be held on Saturday, July 19 at McKinley Park Campground.
And a tradition that dates back 100 years is certainly worth preserving. If you haven’t made it to a picnic, this is the perfect year to start your own family tradition.
Old Settlers Committee members are expecting a crowd, and have planned accordingly. With two weeks to go, over 170 have pre-registered. There is still time to mail in your dues (PO Box 724 , Tower, MN 55790), or else people are welcome to pay at the picnic starting at 10 a.m. Booyah is served starting at noon, and is served until it is gone, which usually takes about a half-hour.
Membership dues are $8 per person, and with your ticket you get a generous helping of the once-a-year booyah, plus a raffle ticket for one of the many prizes donated by area businesses that will be awarded. Special anniversary t-shirts and hats will be for sale. There will also be live entertainment after the meal, with Art Lehtonen.
Old Settlers is open to anyone born or living on the Vermilion Iron Range, which stretches from Tower-Soudan to Ely. The picnic was originally sponsored by the Oliver Mining Company as a summer outing for its employees, and turned into a community-wide celebration. At one time, Old Settlers could boast over 1,000 people in attendance. Cars would line the road all the way up to the Soudan Community Store, and the township would run buses back and forth to ferry people to and from the park.
In more recent years attendance has been in the 225-300 range, but organizers are planning for a larger turnout for this anniversary year.
While there is seating available, people may want to bring their own portable picnic tables and chairs. Everyone needs to bring their own pot for their steaming hot booyah, bowls and silverware, and other picnic food. Bread and coffee are available. Drinks are also for sale at the campground store.
Nick Tekautz is once again leading the booyah crew. Volunteers will be cutting up the hundreds of pounds of vegetables in his garage the evening before. About 200 gallons of booyah will be made, about 800 servings.
Preparing 200 gallons of booyah takes some good old-fashioned elbow grease. The afternoon before the annual gathering, a couple of dozen volunteers gather in Tekautz’s garage to peel and chop the 50 pounds of onions, 120 pounds of carrots, 300 pounds of potatoes, 24 bunches of celery and 60 pounds of cabbage that go into the five large cast iron booyah pots. And while chopping vegetables is generally pretty pleasant, if you get there late, you will probably end up at the onion table.
The booyah recipe, passed down for 100 years now, also includes 200 pounds of beef, 60 pounds of pork, tomato puree, corn, green beans, peas, rice and pepper.
There is a specific order and time for adding each ingredient, said Tekautz. The fires are lit at 6 p.m. and by 8 p.m. the water is just about boiling.
The cooking itself is down to a science, and Tekautz said he doesn’t even need to taste it along the way.
Something magic does happen as the booyah simmers overnight. Tekautz said the recipe is impossible to duplicate at home; he’s tried and failed several times.
The cast iron kettles, used only once a year for the Old Settlers picnic, may hold the key to the special flavor of the meat and vegetable soup. Their age is uncertain. But they certainly date back to the early years of the Old Settlers tradition.
“The kettles get so hot,” said Tekautz. “Maybe they burn the broth at the edges. It has to have something to do with the kettles.”
It makes sense that the magic of the metal is the key to a successful Old Settlers picnic.